February 21, 2018
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Maine coastal city moves to limit Airbnb rentals

Stephen Betts | BDN
Stephen Betts | BDN
FIle photo from 2016 of Rockland. City officials are considering limiting rentals from services such as Airbnb.
By Lauren Abbate, BDN Staff
Updated:

Next month Rockland will begin limiting the number of short-term rental properties in the city, affecting property owners who use services such as Airbnb and HomeAway.

City councilors approved the temporary cap Monday night by a 3-2 vote. The cap of 45 non-owner occupied short-term rentals takes effect March 15.

The move to control the number of short-term rentals in Rockland was put forth by Mayor Valli Geiger, who said the temporary cap “is a pause” while the city can look at how short-term rentals are affecting the city’s overall housing stock for longer-term renters. Geiger said the cap may only need to be in place for a year while city officials review short-term rental regulations.

The cap will not affect individuals who live in a house and rent out a room on a short-term basis.

As of Tuesday, 37 non-owner occupied short-term rental applications have been filed with the city, according to codes enforcement officer John Root. Last year, Root said Rockland had 42 non-owner occupied short-term rentals.

Councilors and residents who showed up for Monday night’s meeting split on the cap proposal

Cheryl Michaelson, who owns a Rockland inn, said it’s been long overdue for the council to take a look at the impact of short-term rentals.

“The phenomenon is not going away and it begs to be regulated to protect the year-round community of Rockland,” Michaelson said.

Geiger has argued that some neighborhoods in Rockland are “going dark” during the winter because of the number of non-owner occupied short-term rentals ― properties rented for less than a month largely during the summer.

But others called the cap arbitrary. Fletcher Smith, a real estate broker, said the cap prioritizes one interest group “over another equally important cause,” which is people renting out homes as a means to move to the city at a later date.

Councilor Lisa Westkaemper said she agrees that the city must look at the impacts of short-term rentals, but that the cap of 45 is just “a line in the sand” rather than a “thoughtful percentage.”

“We need to decide what this beast is and how to deal with it,” Westkaemper said. “I am in favor of doing it in a comprehensive way.”

New applicants for short-term rental permits will have until March 15 to submit applications. People renewing short-term rentals will have until April 15 to file applications. After April 15, applicants for new short-term rentals will be able to apply until the cap of 45 rentals is reached.

However, Root said that because he cannot enforce the cap of 45 permits until March 15, more than 45 non-owner occupied short-term rental applications could get through. Though, Root said he does not anticipate a rush on permits despite the cap.

On Monday, the city council also approved imposing a fine of $5,000 if a property owner operates a non-owner occupied short-term rental without a permit.

Rockland is not the only city in Maine looking to regulate the number of short-term rentals. Portland recently put in place a cap and registration fee system for short-term rentals.

Since the beginning of the year, the availability of housing in Rockland has been a city council focus. Last month, Geiger created a housing task force composed of sub-committees that will look into different ways the city can address housing challenges.

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